Walk: Eerste Jan Steenstraat

It’s a gray Sunday afternoon, but the rain has let up. Let’s go.

Entering Sarphatipark, I noticed some improvised seating.

No one is illegal.

Hadn’t noticed the REAM sticker before. I like die cuts like this.

The ‘IJ’ digraph in Dutch is possibly my favorite typographic ligature. The Rijksmuseum logo makes famous use of this, too.

Nice line contrast on the dark utility door, just before crossing Ferdinand Bolstraat, one of the main shopping streets in the neighborhood.

Fun with reflections.

Lots of anti-TTIP stickers around, but this is the one I see most often.

Polk-a-dot Peugeot.

Whoever thought this campaign up was pretty brilliant. I took this picture assuming it was some nationalist, Wilders-esque anti-EU group. Just looked up the website, though, and it’s actually a neighborhood petition to move the entrance of the Heineken Experience to an interior street in order to improve pedestrian and traffic flow. Well done. You got my attention.

Walk: Dusk in de Pijp

It’s 10:00pm. Dusk this time of year in Amsterdam. I grab my camera, and go for a short walk around the perimeter of Sarphati Park, in the center of de Pijp.

In most cities, No Parking signs dominate streets. In Amsterdam, it’s Geen fietsen!, or in this popular expat area, the English equivalent. Not that the signs are all that effective.

I put this up a few weeks ago and it’s still here. My favorite thing is to forget about putting one up and then randomly seeing it again with fresh eyes.

Constants of Amsterdam: old kerken (churches) and road construction. In this case, the church is the Orangekerk, and it’s not that old — it was built in 1902.

Typical road construction on smaller streets and walking areas. Compacted sand with square paving stones hammered in by hand. Easy to repair and replace — which is happening constantly.

Another tapeup that survived a few weeks on Ceintuurbaan.

And a new tapeup I put up tonight.

Walk: Albert Cuypstraat

Friday night, 11pm, warm Summer night. I’ve been couped up all day inside, so I need to get out of the house. I follow the bright street lamps on Van Woustraat up to the start of the famous Albert Cuypmarkt, the largest outdoor market in Amsterdam.

By day, Cuypmarkt is thick with tourists, shoppers, and market stands. By night, it’s a dystopian looking street with fish guts, sea birds, and market trash.

This is a new sculpture installed this year marking the entrance to the Van Woustraat entrance to Albert Cuypmarkt.

I see this pasteup from time to time in various European cities, but I don’t know much about it.

This is what most of the retail level of Cuypstraat looks like at night — retail storefronts with rolled down gates and loads of tagging.

Promise, I won’t.

Typical mid-block retail storefronts.

Some of the food trucks stay parked on the street overnight, like this frites truck.

The orange light, and the vast empty spaces make Cuypstraat look like a movie set.

This cafe runs on a ‘pay what you can’ model. It’s been in business the entire year we’ve been here. Must not be doing too badly.

Summer means festival season. Every few days the posters throughout the city rotate from one festival to another. Dutch poster design is good, too, particularly the type-heavy styles as you see here.

The area outside of Cafe Flamingo is jam packed. I take my headphones off and am immediately blown away by how loud the buzz of the crowd is. Here’s a rough recording from my phone:

Good reminder.


“ALLE YUPPEN DE PIJP OUT!” I think this basically means “YUPPIES OUT OF THE PIPE!”

Nice, large paste up at the western end of Cuypmarkt. I turn around and head back the other side of the street.

Another pirate reference. This time a sticker put up by the Pirateenpartij.

The attire of choice for Amsterdam stag parties – the giant dick joke underwear. You can buy these at every corner store in the Red Light District. This one had a sad end.

I hear they’re delicious!

Amsterdam formal wear.

Really like the high contrast, dual thickness white lines on the crisp black.

Laughing at this one all the way home.

Back underneath the gate at the Van Woustraat entrance. These guys look like they’re figuring out their plans for the rest of the night.

I turn right on Van Woustraat and walk the few blocks back to my place.

A Year in Amsterdam

The broker advising us through our unlikely home purchase in Amsterdam told us we would need to buy life insurance policies as part of the terms of the mortgage. We would need a minimum of €60,000 of coverage each. Nothing makes one think of death and the Universal tendency for disintegration than insurance money.

Most don’t have the opportunity to attend their own funeral. I didn’t either, but a version of me did die last year, suddenly. 30+ years of relationships and expectations — gone overnight.

Due to the nature of my social death, I only saw glimpses of the funereal social media posts some friends made in the days following, but I never had a prolonged look.

What occasionally weighs on me, still, a year later, is the vast weight of silence. Whenever work mates, or new friends talk about their parents or their longtime friends, a feeling of emptiness washes over me. It’s not pain, it’s not anger, and it’s not necessarily jealousy. Just emptiness.

Sometimes I will randomly see an Instagram or a Tweet from a former friend, and I half expect to hear a pile of bones shuffling off in the corner somewhere. I still get a reaction, but it is more muted and feels shifted onto a different self that no longer consciously exists.

In the last year, we’ve made Amsterdam home. It’s easy to live here. It’s not my favorite city in the world and I wouldn’t say that I’ve completely fallen in love with it. But there are a lot of advantages to easy right now.

After spending so many years in a guilt-inducing, grueling environment, being able to work desultorily, have weekends, spend time walking, indulging in creative projects, smoking pot, spending time with my wife, having sex, and generally enjoying life without too many immediate concerns have all been big parts of my thawing process.

I’ve tried new things this year. I went to boxing classes. I liked it, and need to get into more of a practice. I felt the need to jump start my creative life, so I self-commissioned a meditative Amsterdam photo walk series. The project is an exercise in ways of seeing and noticing. I’m making an old school paper zine that will be available soon. I’ve started a mildly subversive street art project. I’ve volunteered/worked on behalf of a couple of social movements that are close to my heart. I’ve read a lot of biographical, philosophical, and social/political theory books. I saw Slavoj Žižek give a talk in Amsterdam. I met Patti Smith. I’ve been to Seattle, Barcelona, Reykjavik, Paris, and Berlin. I spent time at a giant anarchist squat which challenged my view of the future. I’ve restarted my record collection. I’ve done drugs. I’ve thought a lot about my own sexuality, limits, and choices.

If all of that sounds terribly collegiate, particularly for a 34-year old man, I can’t disagree. I’ve had a feeling I can’t shake lately that I’ve been in the process of awakening into my 19-year old self (but with a 34-year old’s spare tire and hairline). My cure for battling nihilism has been to intentionally follow my interests and desires until I find something I can create meaning and passion around. I think the strategy is working.

We’ve made good friends this year. This snuck up on us. We count among our friends a diverse crowd of fellow immigrants and Dutch locals. Friends make any place exponentially more agreeable. Small talk is exhausting, and I’m glad to be intimate enough with many of our friends that it’s no longer necessary.

So now we’re buying a home here. Putting down new roots. Devon and I are both pursuing a life filled with creative projects. Neither of us know where we belong, but we’re forging ahead under the assumption that this is a good place to make home base. Where we are right now.

Amsterdam can be a little boring and predictable. Dutch pragmatism is great for taking care of the mundanities of life, so you have to BYOP (bring your own passion) to have a creative life here. It’s not supplied for you as it is in more romantic or fucked up places. But there are endless fascinations here if you look hard enough.

I’m excited about starting a life in Amsterdam Noord. The house we’re buying is in a little village called Disteldorp just across the Ij River from Centraal Station, set in what was traditionally an industrial port and shipbuilding area. The area is dystopian enough for my aesthetics, and we are super close, yet a world away from the surging mass of tourists in the Centrum. Oh, and riding a ferry will be a major part of our life again.

What will the next year bring? I want to feel invested in our new neighborhood. I want to continue to pursue a creative life. I want to be involved in community building, geographically yes, but also within groups and subcultures I’m involved in. I will probably always be an outsider. I’m coming to terms with that. I will never get all those years back, and that’s OK. The life I have right now is a rare gift. I want to continue to participate fully in the project of this life I’m creating.

Walk: Diamantbuurt

Even though I’m fighting a cold (and mostly losing), I wake up early to a beautifully still early Sunday morning in Amsterdam. The light, cool breeze is nice outside, so I grab my camera and go. Today, I head toward the residential SE corner of De Pijp, a little micro-neighborhood called Diamantbuurt.

To get there, I walk a few blocks south down Van Woustraat. At this hour, the street is mostly filled with busted trash bags, pigeons, and the remnants of Saturday night.

I need to look up some info on this, but, anecdotally, I’ve heard some stories involving this street (Pieter Aertszstraat) and the escalation of atrocities against Jews in occupied WW2 Amsterdam. In fact, I need to learn more about the WW2 history of Amsterdam in general. I stil haven’t been to the Anne Frank Huis, much less the Dutch Resistance Museum

Neon spray painted bikes baking in the morning sun.

I now enter the Diamantbuurt area. The first few streets are quiet, single level, pleasant little urban houses. This house had two nice stencils on either side of their door.

The second stencil.

Really large piece on Diamantstraat.

Pretty little tag on the south end of Diamantstraat.

I now approach Diamantbuurt proper. To me, these buildings, designed by Dutch architect Jop van Epen, look like fortresses. The brick, the angular elements, the yellow and green window frames — these are all hallmark styles of these arbeiderspaleizen, or ‘worker’s palaces’.

Most of these housing units were not built with showers, so there was a public bath house built at the center of the neighborhood. This is true of many housing developments in Amsterdam. The bathhouse in Diamanttbuurt was also designed by van Epen, and was the last of them to close in Amsterdam.

There are many parts of the housing development that are almost fully enclosed from the outer roads, with housing units arching over the neighborhood’s entryway.

I noticed some of the blocks had these dark, archways covering the exterior entries, so you can step in from the rain to unlock your door.

As I exit Diamantbuurt, I cross Van Woustraat. This coffeeshop facade is one of the less…imaginative that I’ve seen.

Looking down the Amstelkanaal, the southern border of de Pijp (and Diamantbuurt).

No door-to-door papers!

Fun sticker hidden away on the side of an electric box. It was still so early, and the neighborhood was so still and silent, I actually got a little nervous taking this picture, since I was about a foot from what seemed to be a bedroom window. I didn’t want the occupants to think I was taking photos of their bedroom.

Remnants of Saturday’s outside play time.

Walk: De Wallen

Sunday, late morning, mostly sunny. I take the tram to the Dam square stop, and follow the crowds.

Beurs van Berlage — Amsterdam

We’re dumped off just north of Dam Square, in front of the Beurs van Berlage, which appears to be some sort of conference center now.

Tiny exhibit outside of W139 Artist Space

I head east into the Red Light District. First stop is W139, the artist-run space at Warmoesstraat 139. It was closed today, but they often have installation-based contemporary art shows there. Today, I noticed affixed to the front of the building was a yellow box with a speaker grille and black and white buttons. I press the button to hear a message, but I’m not sure it works anymore.

Graffiti outside of W139 Artist Space

Effective little minimal graffiti piece outside the front entrance to W139.

Address tile for W139 Contemporary Art Space

But why?

De Oliphantsgang street tile

I take a shortcut east on the way to Oude Kerk down this little alley with a dramatic and beautiful street sign.

This is prime window lady area, and there are NO PHOTO signs everywhere, so I respect everyone’s privacy and don’t take any photos as I walk through the main concentration of windows on the way to Oude Kerk.

Men walking around De Wallen

There are lots of men walking around the area, but also families with small children and couples, too. I did notice that the window girls’ faces often betray minor exasperation when a tour group crowds one of the narrow corridors. Guessing when gawking tourists clog them, it harms their income potential by driving actual customers away.

Oude Kerk — Amsterdam

Oude Kerk, the oldest building in Amsterdam. It was originally built in 1213. It’s been added to and rebuilt many times. The church hosts a pretty great contemporary art program. Their current exhibition is well worth seeing.

Red Light Kitty

From the bridge, I notice a cat hunting a pigeon.

Red Light Kitty, Part 2

Red light kitty closed in for the kill. Two seconds later, there was one less pigeon in the world.

OZ Achterburgwal Canal

The northern stretch of the OZ Achterburgwall canal has building foundations that dip directly into the canal. Kind of reminds me of the Venetian style canal buildings.

Feeling kind of inadequate

Sex shops are everywhere in De Wallen. This particular combination is for…ehh…pros, I think.

Feeling more adequate, now

OK, feeling more adequate now.

Wall filled with stickers and flyers — Amsterdam

Lots of stickered up doors in De Wallen, but there is surprisingly less interesting street art than I thought there’d be. I think it’s so busy with tourists all the time that it’s a little harder to work there.

Sticker wall — De Wallen

I liked this combination a lot.


Journey ends near the old wall gate area of Nieumarkt. I continue down Sint Antoniesbreestraat to have some breakfast and do a little record shopping.